Countering Backlash: Reclaiming Gender Justice

start date

1 October 2019

end date

30 September 2025



Global progress on gender equality is under threat. We are living in an age where major political and social shifts are resulting in new forces that are visibly pushing back to reverse the many gains made for women’s rights and to shrink civic space.

This patriarchal backlash is escalating globally. It aims to ‘other’, demonise and disempower those who seek to advance gender justice, and to re-valorise patriarchal traditional gender roles and stereotypes, founded on male supremacy and the subordination of women. It deploys a polarising politics of mobilising populist narratives which comingle misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia – and with scant regard for evidence or ‘truth’. It is also co-opting existing policy processes for gender in development, undoing and reversing much progress made in the past.

This timely six-year programme of work will create much-needed new knowledge of these complex phenomena, and identify opportunities for women’s rights organisations and other gender justice defenders to counter backlash and address the erosion of gender objectives within development. The programme is funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

We will carry out engaged research, generate new thinking, and build capacity across networks and strategic partnerships with women’s and other human rights organisations, activists, academics, and policymakers, regionally and globally.

Focused on our central objective ‘to enhance the understanding, capacities, and opportunities needed for women’s rights organisations and other gender justice defenders to counter backlash and address the erosion of gender objectives within development’, we will deliver two key sets of results:

  • Increased access to and use of gender equality research focused on backlash
  • Enhanced methods and capacity development for gender equality efforts.

The project will co-create and communicate evidence and methods on backlash, the erosion of gender policies and new opportunities for feminist action. We will also – by enhancing capacities – indirectly contribute to other strategic gender equality objectives under Global Goals 5 (gender equality) and 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).

Learning and action on ‘voice’, ‘patriarchy’ and ‘policy’

The challenges of backlash, the erosion of gender policies and finding new opportunities for feminist impact will be addressed through three intertwining strands of work: ‘Voice’, ‘Patriarchy’ and ‘Policy and Practice’.

Each will engage research partners and activists, feminist networks, social movements, and policymakers in East Africa, South Asia, Brazil, and the Middle East. We will collaborate with actors in research, capacity building; convening debates, and communicating knowledge and strategies for reclaiming gender justice nationally and internationally. We work collectively to enable adaptive planning, conceptual development, and analysis for influence at all levels.

Find out more on our website


Recent work


Countering online gender backlash in Uganda

This year, Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) is thrilled to join the Countering Backlash programme. WOUGNET’s emphasis will be to identify and explore the key drivers of gender backlash, particularly looking at the relationship between online and offline contributors to gender backlash in the...

Peace Oliver Amuge, WOUGNET & 2 others

23 February 2023


Countering gender backlash in Uganda’s infamous Sexual Offences Bill

Uganda has registered significant steps in promoting gender justice, equality and women’s rights in recent years. Considerable progress has been seen in women’s collective advocacy for strengthening rights in marriage, inheritance of family property and political participation since...

19 January 2023

Working Paper

Unravelling Backlash in the Journey of Legislating Sexual Offences in Uganda

IDS Working Paper 585

This paper interrogates the reality of gender backlash in Uganda by tracing the process of legislating on the 2019 Sexual Offences Bill (SOB). We trace the early beginnings of the Bill by highlighting the motivation that guided its framing, the role of individual actors and alliances in pushing...

18 January 2023


Backlash against student activists during #MeToo in Kolkata, India

Student politics in Kolkata is dominated by left-leaning organisations who look at the world in terms of ‘class struggle’ and claim to be supportive of all democratic movements – including women’s movements and anti-caste struggles. However, some scholars such as Arundhati Roy have...

9 January 2023


IDS in Solidarity with 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence

Starting 25 November, activists around the world will be marking 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence - an annual international campaign to raise awareness of the issue of gender-based violence (GBV) and to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and...

24 November 2022

Past Event

Reclaiming trans rights in India: Unsettling patriarchy?

Despite a rich cultural tradition of gender-fluidity, the transgender community in India have been stigmatised as a ‘criminal tribe’ through a colonial-era law. The community has struggled for their rights over decades, and only after significant engagement with the judiciary were they...

6 September 2022